Manchester Withington Polling Fiasco

Whilst the Chair of the electoral commission should carry the can for the travesty that occurred, there are also lessons to be learned. As a voter in Mancheter Withington, I believe the following should be looked into.

  1. Mcr Withington has always had the highest turnout of the 5 Manchester constituencies. Was this allowed for?
  2. Students tend to vote late – on the way to the pub. The problems were mostly in areas with high student numbers e.g. Fallowfield and Ladybarn.
  3. Was lack of voting booths (2 per station) an issue?
  4. Were there procedural changes? The clerks seemed to take longer than usual (there was local elections as well). Was this due to having the electoral lists in postal address order, rather than alphabetical order of name or street address?
  5. Queues were already forming at 11am. Why did none of the clerks summon help? Or if they did, why was none available?
  6. Also, why did it take much longer in Manchester Town Hall to count the vote? The result was at least 3 hours later than usual. I think this happened in lots of other areas as results seemed to come through more slowly.


If government agencies cannot get a simple procedure like voting correct, then what hope have we for reducing the impact of cost-cutting in more complex areas? By improving and simplifying procedures, productivity can increase, so standards of service will not be reduced as much. Understanding a simple failure can give insights into other areas.


  1. I don’t think that a lack of polling booths was the problem. There were simply too many people expected to vote at certain polling stations – over 6000 at Ladybarn Community Centre. The Council knew that the staff were strugling, but nothing was done to resolve the problem. On top of this many people had to be told why they could vote in the local election, but not the General Election – the Electoral Commission raised this as a problem in the their report.
    The solution (in my opinion), is to ensure that a General Election (where turnout is always higher) should not be on the same day as another election. This should go hand in hand with a change in the law to allow all people to vote who turn up before close of poll, and a complete review on the number of polling stations, to ensure that they have a maximum number of voters, who will all be ble to be accommodated.
    The count took far too lomg, but it didn’t help that both sets of ballot papers were put in the same bx. It would have been far quicker if they had been separated. The declaration was about 7.40am, compared to about 2.40am in 2005 (if I remember correctly)- and that was after a recount!

  2. manicbeancounter

     /  26/05/2010

    Thanks for your considered response.

    If we look at two things that you report – the 6000 voters at Ladybarn Community Centre and taking more than twice the time to report the count compared with last time (9.6 hours v 4.6) – there has clearly been some failure to estimate the resources required. This is further shown by the fact that the other four Manchester constituencies did not suffer the same problems at the polling stations.

    I hope that the investigation looks at how the resource was estimated and compare this with how it was done last time. For instance was any allowance made for different electorates per polling station? Ladybarn, should have had the compacity to process at least 500 voters per hour throughout the date and 1000 voters in the peak hours. Clearly it achieved nothing like this.

    Alongside this I hope there are informal one-to-one open conversations with those operating the polling stations, especially those with previous experiance. That way we may find out small details that could make all the differance.

    A final point is that this is a fairly straightforward resource allocation problem. This Government faces much bigger and far more complex problems in trying to reduce the deficit whilst trying to minimise the pain of reduced services and higher taxes. By first seeking to understand issues and involving people from the grassroots we can all be better served that by a few spin doctors creating daily initiatives to manage the news agenda. An example could be the academies initiative, where better standards could come from diverse approaches and learning from the different experiences.

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